By Tadeous Manyepo
NOT even when the ultimate continental football competition, the Africa Cup of Nations, was twice hosted in this part of Africa has COSAFA teams constituted at least a third of the cast.
Oftentimes, including in the last edition in Gabon, Southern Africa has been represented by only one country at the biannual fiesta.
Little wonder why, out of all the five confederations across Africa, including UNAF (North ), WAFU-UFOA (West) UNIFFAF (Central) and CECAFA (East), COSAFA have taken home the prestigious trophy only on two occasions with South Africa (1996) and Zambia in 2012 achieving the feat in the region.
Save for the 1998 edition of the jamboree staged in Burkina Faso where five of the COSAFA teams (South Africa, Zambia, Angola, Namibia and Mozambique) featured, it has been a rarity to see a significant number of participants at AFCON from this part competing at once in the same edition.
But there is renewed hope sweeping across the region that with the increase in the number of participants from 16 to 24 starting at this year’s edition in Egypt and with the way Southern African teams are poised in their qualification groups, COSAFA will finally have a huge chunk in terms of representation at the competition.
But, that much also depends on whether the teams manage to grind favourable results in the final round of the qualifying fixtures to be played next month.
Madagascar have already made the roster for their first ever AFCON appearance and could be joined by seven other teams from COSAFA in what would be a landmark achievement for the region.
The most successful team in the tournament from Southern Africa, Zambia, along with Swaziland, Botswana, Malawi and the Seychelles are the only teams already out of contention for a place in Egypt.
The rest still have their destiny firmly in their control and if they play their cards well, they will make it to the tournament scheduled to begin on June 21 and ends on July 19.
Comoros though, faces a daunting task to negotiate a way for their maiden show at the AFCON as they need an outright win away to Cameroon to secure their passage.
Lesotho, Mozambique and Angola also need to win their final group matches and need not wait for other results to be part of the lot in the North African country.
Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, on the other hand, just have to avoid defeats in their respective matches to ensure progress.
The Warriors of Zimbabwe top Group G on eight points but all the teams in that group, including their opponents in the March fixtures, Congo Brazzaville, all retain a chance to qualify.
But Zimbabwe, who will be playing at home, just need to avoid defeat to be ensured of their progress.
Sunday Chidzambwa's men know they can't lapse as defeat by the Central Africans mean the Warriors will need highly unlikely results in the other group match between Liberia and the DR Congo to scrap through.
Bafana Bafana, in the same vein, need a draw away to Libya and anything less than that will all but end their hopes of a dance in Egypt.
COSAFA president Philip Chiyangwa is on record saying it is only by having more teams from the region at the AFCON that Southern Africa becomes more recognisable on the continental stage.